Bolivian airline Aerosur offers free flights to tourists trapped in Potosi protests

by BoliviaBella.com
(Santa Cruz Bolivia)

13 Aug. 2010 - Several hundred tourists were stranded in the Potosí area as protests and road blocks enter their 16th day and food becomes scarce. Bolivian airline Aerosur is offering to help tourists leave the area with rides and free flights from Sucre to anywhere in Bolivia.

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16 Aug. 2010 UPDATE: Although the Potosí protesters and Bolivian government seem to have reached some tentative agreements, you should continue to be cautious while traveling this area and be alert for any new disagreements or disturbances. Keep up with local news.
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Aerosur personnel told BoliviaBella.com this morning that Aerosur Airlines has been in contact with protest leaders in Potosí, in an effort to arrange for provisions to be sent to the area and for tourists, people requiring urgent medical care, and any residents of Potosí who have run out of funds, to leave the area.

Humberto Roca, president of Aerosur, has announced that the airline will send a "solidarity flight" on Saturday the 14th of August which will leave the Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz at 10:00 a.m., headed to Sucre. It will be carrying food, provisions, water and supplies donated by residents of Santa Cruz, for the inhabitants and tourists trapped in Potosí.

As there is no airport in Potosí, the aircraft will fly to Sucre and provisions will be trucked or bussed to Potosí from there, going through roadblocks along the way. Aerosur personnel will then return to Sucre in private vehicles, taking tourists and anyone who needs medical attention with them.

Aerosur indicates protest leaders cannot guarantee safe passage through the roadblocks to Aerosur personnel and any tourists or others that travel with them; however, they did believe protesters might be willing to allow them through.

AEROSUR OFFICE IN POTOSI

Aerosur is offering to help tourists exit the area in this manner. Tourists interested should go to the Aerosur office in the city of Potosí at Calle Cobija No. 25 and ask for Carlos Oropeza. The phone number is 622-8988 and the cellphone is 724-05555.

An attempt will be made to transfer tourists in private vehicles from Potosí to Sucre and from Sucre Aerosur will fly them for free to any other city of the country they wish to go. Aerosur plans to continue these solidarity flights for as long as protesters allow and it remains safe to do so - free of charge.

M.A.S. PARTY SUPPORTERS THREATEN TO SURROUND POTOSÍ

Tourists should be forewarned that in related news today, a group of indigenous leaders supporting the government's MAS party warned through the media, that if the civic leaders of Potosí do not put a halt to their protests, they will completely surround the city of Potosí and will cut the department off from the rest of the country. If this should occur, it may become impossible for Aerosur to continue its offer.

There is the potential for this to become violent if protesters and MAS party supporters clash, and the region is now beginning to experience a food and water shortage. Travelers are being warned not to travel to this area until the situation is resolved. Numerous foreign embassies have issued similar travel warnings, indicating tourists should not make attempts to go through road blocks.

Aerosur personnel indicate a large caravan of tourists did leave Potosí yesterday. They do not know if this caravan was turned back to Potosí or if it was allowed through road blocks and on to Sucre.

Any tourists who have already made it out of the protest area and need help getting to another city, should contact Aerosur.

BACKGROUND

Residents of the departments of Potosí and Oruro are disputing where the border between these two departments actually is. This is a long-standing dispute but the situation has been aggravated recently because inhabitants of both Potosi and Oruro want rights over minerals and natural resources located near the Cerro Pahua, a mountain said to contain marble, uranium and limestone (used for making cement). Both regions are demanding cement factories be installed on their sides of the border (within the area between Coroma and Quillacas) and this has heightened tension over where the actual border is.

Protesters have blocked all roads to the region, are protesting in the streets, and have set up numerous hunger strikes throughout the region. In addition, Potosi residents living in other cities have joined the protest by setting up hunger strikes throughout the country. In the area of Potosi itself demonstrators are not allowing foreign travelers and tourists to leave the area. The Embassy of France sent an airplane to evacuate its citizens but it was unable to land as protesters blocked the runway using sticks of dynamite. Protesters have also taken over a hydro-electric plant that provides electricity to the San Cristobal mine, which is losing an estimated $2 million dollars per day in production at this time.

Government attempts to negotiate have been futile to date with both government officials and protest leaders putting the blame on each other for the failure to reach an agreement.

Aerosur indicates that communication with protest leaders in Potosí is very difficult and it will continue to send flights only for as long as protesters allow and it is safe to do so. Tourists needing passage out of Potosí should go to the Aerosur office in Potosí as soon as possible.

THE AIRLINE'S REPUTATION FOR SOLIDARITY

Aerosur is known in Bolivia informally as the "aerolínea solidaria" (the solidarity airline) because of the frequency with which it helps Bolivian individuals and families, especially the poor. For example, when a Bolivian citizen dies overseas and the family cannot afford to fly the body back to Bolivia, Aerosur often offers to bring the deceased person back for burial. Bolivians often go to television stations to make televised requests, and Aerosur president Humberto Roca, frequently calls in personally to offer free flights and other types of aid.

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15 August 2010
Potosí police are reporting most of the foreign tourists stranded in the Potosí and Uyuni area have been evacuated in small groups by local authorities, although protests and road blocks continue. French Ambassador Antoine Grassin indicated about 11 French tourists are still in Potosí, and have not received help from the police.
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